Now more than ever, corporations are being called to leverage their influence to affect social change. In fact, according to Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer, 86 percent of consumers expect companies to take one or more actions beyond their product and business.
Crisis response plans must evolve with these expectations to stay effective as tools by which to mitigate reputational and business risk should their need arise.
As a value-driven company, our client wanted to pressure-test existing crisis response practices and protocols against a scenario reflective of today’s sociopolitical landscape and the changed space corporations hold in our social fabric, as well as spark a timely discussion for executives on the nature of the company’s core values.
STRATEGY & EXECUTION
Edelman facilitated a virtual crisis simulation for 16 of the company’s C-suite and senior executives. Over the course of two hours, participants were guided through a realistic scenario that introduced conflict across the company’s stakeholder groups and challenged them to marry their core values with their business imperatives.
Strained ties with a longstanding client and charitable partner served as the simulation’s foundation, when this client refused to take political action in the face of intense public scrutiny. Hoping to leverage business relationships to force action, advocacy groups turned to the company demanding they cut ties – necessarily backing a political agenda, though one that could be interpreted as aligned with their core values.
Additional variables were introduced at regular intervals to show how the scenario may impact the company’s relationships across stakeholder groups. Employees leveraged internal and external channels to pressure the company into action. Major institutional investors suggested the company’s response would impact their decisions related to Board governance. The company’s relationship with its largest client was placed in jeopardy.
All the while, the company was charged not just with making business decisions but considering how communications should be managed at each turn – assessing the risk and impact of fielding media requests, determining how to respond in the wake of damaging leaks of internal communications, weighing how communications strategies might differ for each stakeholder group, and more.
The simulation provoked lively and productive discussions that helped executives further define their company’s values and expand how they considered the impacts of crises driven by social or political issues. Importantly, the simulation exposed a lack of consensus on how those values might translate to social or political action, which Edelman helped navigate through to a resolution.
Based on observations throughout the simulation, Edelman also identified opportunities to modify the existing crisis response framework, including introducing new variables to consider when assessing a situation and establishing priorities to weight decision-making.